After several years in which only a handful of new charter schools opened in the city of Detroit, three new charter schools are being considered by Central Michigan University, the state’s largest authorizer.
The slowdown in new charter schools in the last few years came as critics ramped up pressure on authorizers, accusing them of opening too many schools and creating financial problems for district and charter schools alike. A spokesperson for Central Michigan said the university had not deliberately slowed the pace of new charter schools, but had just not received applications from schools it wanted to support.
The potential resurgence of charter authorizations in the city is thanks to a first-of-its-kind report published late last year, said Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies. The report shows 10 city neighborhoods where it’s extremely difficult to find a seat in a quality school, and in some neighborhoods, more than 3,000 K-12 students are without a quality school nearby.
“MAPSA agrees with several of the recommendations made in the … report released in December, especially the notion that we need to do everything possible to ensure that every child in Detroit is receiving a quality education, in a quality school,” he said. “This will involve opening more quality schools, particularly at the elementary level.”
Quisenberry said authorizers like Central Michigan and Grand Valley State universities are taking the report’s recommendations seriously and are seeking groups who can create “higher performing educational opportunities for students and families in and around Detroit.”
Janelle Brzezinski, director of communications at Central Michigan’s center for charter schools, said when deciding where to put the new charters, the university will use the report, which shows neighborhoods like Finney, Chadsey, and Grandmont in dire need of schools. In the past, charters have been criticized for flooding neighborhoods that already have many schools instead of opening in neighborhoods with a demonstrated need, leaving families to travel long distances to attend.
Brzezinski said the potential schools will undergo a “rigorous” review, with consideration for a school’s education program and the community’s need for a school.
Central Michigan is considering three new schools in the city: Bridge Academy, a diverse community school with a program focused on developing good character; Greenfield Academy, which intends to emphasize reading proficiency, and Phalen Leadership Academy, which will be modeled after a network of schools in Indianapolis run by Earl Phalen, a nationally recognized educator and advocate.
The Phalen Leadership Academy wouldn’t be the first for Phalen in the area: three charters in the city are controlled by Phalen’s management company, but are sitting in limbo as the Detroit Public Schools Community District considers whether to continue authorizing charter schools.
Bridge Academy was approved by Central Michigan’s Board of Trustees in December to continue through the evaluation process, while decisions on whether to continue review for Phalen Leadership Academy and Greenfield Academy are expected later this month.
Whether the schools will be allowed to settle in Detroit isn’t yet a sure thing. There are currently no new contracts on the table for the upcoming school year, and the earliest that Bridge Academy would be allowed to take root in the city would be fall 2019, Brzezinski said.
Grand Valley says it has no plans at this time to open any charter schools during the 2018 or 2019 school years within the city, but a university official said the charter school office is always considering applications for potential schools.